Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 17, 2012

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Reading Abroad

Among the titles reviewed in today's issue of Shelf Awareness is a sterling example of a book about a distant place and time that helps in understanding current events, in this case the situation in Afghanistan, which this week brought the news that the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban are talking. Or at least they're talking about talking.

Sadly, The Dark Defile by Diana Preston puts the grinding 11-year war in perspective: the book tells of the first British invasion of Afghanistan, beginning in 1838, a four-year campaign that had just one survivor, the greatest military disaster in British history. Reviewer Pamela Toler compared the tale with "watching an impending train wreck in an old movie." It's a relevant reminder that Afghanistan has a way of rebuffing world powers: besides humbling the mighty British Empire, it broke the Soviet Union.

Several novels reviewed in today's issue similarly take readers to foreign cultures and other times. Restoration by Olaf Olafsson is set in Italy during World War II, where a forged Caravaggio sold to the Germans becomes very dangerous. Men in Space by Tom McCarthy lands in Prague in the immediate post-Communist period and also involves an art forgery--one that allows the true work to be sold on the black market. In No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie, U.K. police detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James team up again to solve several murders, one that involves the Henley Royal Regatta. In Dark Side of Valor by Alicia Singleton, the main character goes to the Sudan to help orphans--and is taken prisoner by a corrupt political leader. In the memoir Gypsy Boy, Mikey Walsh recounts a difficult childhood as a Romany in the U.K. And for those interested in otherworldly travel, The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad is an exhaustive account of the history, the many benefits and a few problems of the 5,000-year-old discipline that originated in ancient India.

Happy traveling! Happy reading! --John Mutter

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

Recipes; A García Márquez Collection; Dahl Stamps

Cooking the books: Flavorwire chose "5 recipes inspired by your favorite novels" from the forthcoming, updated edition of The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp (Tarcher).


Fashionable literature: Fashion designer Carlos Campos based his fall 2012 line on Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, which he first read when he was a teenager, Jacket Copy reported.  


Bookshelf of the day: The Traliccio, an "invisible library" featuring shelves that "have been dematerialized and transformed to the point that they remain a thin bent rod that, thanks to its inclination, can accommodate books of different sizes," according to the Bookshelf blog.  


Check out the wonkalicious, whizzpopping and swizzfiggling official Roald Dahl stamps, which the Royal Mail released "in tribute to one of the world's greatest storytellers."


Book 'em, Dano. Flavorwire showcased "police sketches of famous literary criminals." Brian Joseph Davis "takes descriptions of famous literary characters and, using law enforcement composite sketch software, creates images of what they’d presumably look like in real life."


Just because you never asked for it: Boing Boing featured "Ralph Waldo Emerson's head made out of electrical outlets and switches."


Black History; Men's Books; Finance; Urban YA

Christopher Paul Curtis, author of The Mighty Miss Malone, recommended "10 books to read for Black History Month" at the Huffington Post. He acknowledged the difficulty of limiting his choices and noted that "my list should be immediately expanded to include any book by any of the authors I cite."


Esquire recommended the "75 books every man should read... an unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published."


Kathryn Erskine, author most recently of Mockingbird, shared her "top 10 first person narratives" in the Guardian, where she observed that "the following books are so powerful, enjoyable, or both, that I've had to read them more than once."


Bloomberg Businessweek asked Robert Harris, author of The Fear Index, to "put together a reading list of what he considers to be the best and most important books set in the world of finance."


Will Eaves, author most recently of This Is Paradise, chose his "top 10 siblings' stories" for the Guardian, noting that the "sibling bond is probably the most readily sentimentalized of family relationships."


The Nerdy Book Club blog selected its top ten urban YA titles.


To celebrate the release of a new edition of William Gaddis's The Recognitions from Dalkey Archive, Flavorwire offered "an essential postmodern reading list."

Book Review



by Olaf Olafsson

Just before World War II, Alice, a British ex-pat living in Italy, marries Claudio Orsini, much to the disappointment of her family, who believe he is beneath her. When they are looking for a place to live, a friend points them to a tumbledown ruin. They devote themselves bringing it back to its original splendor. In time, they have a son and their happiness is complete--for now.

In an interwoven story, Kristin, a young artist from Iceland, goes to Rome to study and connects professionally and romantically with Robert Marshall, a Renaissance expert and art dealer. Robert finds work for her at his studio.

In the summer of 1940, as war looms ever closer to Tuscany, Alice, lonely and bored, goes to Rome to visit friends and reconnects with an old boyfriend. Robert witnesses her indiscretion and exacts a hard price for his silence. He asks her to hide a painting--a Caravaggio--that he has sold to the Germans. What neither of them knows is that it is not really a Caravaggio; Kristin has painted it to humiliate Robert for his having left off being her lover. Kristin soon realizes the cost of what she has done and travels to the Orsinis' villa to destroy the painting.

When Olaf Olafsson isn't serving as an executive v-p at Time Warner, he writes critically acclaimed novels (Walking into the Night; Absolution) and short stories (Valentines). His literary skills bring Restoration to life on a windy Tuscan hilltop north of Florence. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Two women come together in a wartime tale of passion, betrayal and revenge in Tuscany.

Ecco, $14.99, paperback, 9780062065650

Dark Side of Valor

by Alicia Singleton

Raised by an alcoholic mother, Lelia Freeman runs away at 16, determined to make a better life for herself. Moving from New York to Los Angeles, she lives on the streets, determined not to succumb to the lure of drugs and prostitution. She survives, fending for herself, ultimately empowered by congregants of a Christian church who encourage her to help other homeless runaways.

Fast-forward 10 years: courageous Lelia has been transformed into a prominent child advocate. Appointed to a government task force in search of orphans in the war-torn Sudan, Lelia sets off, only to discover the greater implications of her mission. Things take a dangerous turn when a corrupt political leader takes Lelia prisoner. Can Elijah Dune, a mercenary grappling with skeletons from his own past, rescue Lelia from a deadly fate?

In this debut suspense novel, Alicia Singleton creates authentic characters, then embroils them in a chilling, complicated story. Her language is vivid: as rats crawl along tenement baseboards, readers will shiver, feeling the depths of predatory evil--and compassion--Lelia encounters. Throughout the course of this haunting novel, Singleton reminds readers of the human instinct to to do the right thing, despite the personal cost. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A child advocate who's overcome personal adversity faces her greatest crisis in war-torn Africa.

Strebor Books, $15, paperback, 9781593093853

Men in Space

by Tom McCarthy

Set in Prague in the period between Vaclav Havel's rise to the presidency and the breakup of Czechoslovakia, Men in Space, Tom McCarthy's second novel (the third to be published in the U.S.), follows the lives of a group of nihilistic, promiscuous 20-something Bohemian artistes adrift in a world of excess drinking and excess partying and a crew of Bulgarian gangsters involved in an ill-conceived art heist run amok. 

At the center of the story is Anton Markov, a former soccer referee turned nonviolent gangster whose job consists of collecting funds for a Bulgarian crime boss, Ilievski. Ilievski commissions Markov to locate an artist who will create an exact replica of an obscure Bulgarian iconographic painting to deceive local authorities, allowing the authentic piece to be sold on the black market. Markov enlists the help of his former neighbor, Nick Boardaman, an English art critic and nude portrait artist, to locate a suitable artist in masterminding the deception. The artist turns out to be none other than Nick's roommate, the horny and crack-addicted Ivan. By novel's end, all who cross paths with the work are destined to meet misfortune.

McCarthy paints a bleak and disjointed portrait of his intimate cast of characters, using the stolen icon's melancholy ascent to the heavens as the focal point of his narrative. The London writer, whose fame in the art world comes from his role as the general secretary of the avant-garde International Necronautical Society, evokes the social climate of the European art scene with finesse and mastery. Just like the lost cosmonaut orbiting the planet who gives Men in Space its title, however, the outcomes may have one grappling with despair. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer

Discover: An ill-conceived art heist run amok, with a cast of dysfunctional Eastern European artistes and gangsters.

Vintage, $15, paperback, 9780307388223

The Lost Saints of Tennessee

by Amy Franklin-Willis

It's apparent from the opening of The Lost Saints of Tennessee that Ezekiel Cooper is, indeed, astray. Smoking in the parking lot outside his 25th high school reunion, he's contemplating the easiest and most polite ways one might end his life when his newly-ex-wife hops in his pickup long enough to scold him and refresh his painful memories. From this morose beginning, Amy Franklin-Willis creates a debut novel of hope, healing and family love.

The Coopers of Mabry, Tennessee, are a hardworking lot, and when Lillian's third pregnancy (in 1942) produces surprise twin boys, they're anointed as the ones destined to fulfill the family's dreams. At two, measles stunt Carter's mental growth, and Ezekiel grows up determined that being his brother's keeper is his life's calling.

Ezekiel's story unfolds from childhood to the novel's 1985 setting, in his voice and Lillian's. Poverty, hard luck and tragedy abort Zeke's college career and his mother's hopes. But, after the parking-lot contemplation of suicide, Zeke slowly finds redemption by way of the elderly Virginia relatives who welcome him to their comfortable horse-country farm. It is here that Zeke revives his self-worth, renews his young daughters' faith and finds love and peace.

Amy Franklin-Willis, an eighth-generation Southerner, draws on her appreciation for the culture of the southeast, and The Lost Saints of Tennessee is rich in spot-on references: readers will taste the cornbread, shiver at the snow on the mountaintops and be warmed by the Cooper family's love and loyalty through good times and bad. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: A debut novel about three generations of a Tennessee family's love, loss and redemption.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802120052

Mystery & Thriller

No Mark Upon Her

by Deborah Crombie

Death comes to Henley-on-Thames in the 14th installment of the Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mysteries by Deborah Crombie (Necessary as Blood). On his way back to London from Somerset, Duncan is forced to make a stop in Oxfordshire to investigate the peculiar murder of Metropolitan Police detective chief inspector Rebecca Meredith. Meredith, an Olympic rowing hopeful, was found on the banks of the Thames, in the backyard of the Henley Royal Regatta--with virtually no mark upon her. As Duncan and his team delve into the complicated background of Meredith's life, Gemma, back in London, follows a lead on several cases of unsolved violent crimes, all seemingly committed by the same perpetrator. The further Duncan and Gemma dig in their respective investigations, the closer they come to crossing paths and uncovering a dangerous killer.

Crombie's elaborately plotted storyline is substantial and satisfying, as she expertly portrays her many compelling characters balancing work with their home lives. Her engaging writing is splendidly detailed and hints at extensive and careful research of the world of competitive rowing at Henley, while her portrayal of U.K. police procedures is, as usual, spot on. Crombie is especially skilled at weaving a suspenseful tone through efficient yet elegantly worded descriptions of the various settings, drawing the reader into the story and creating the impression of a shared experience. While No Mark Upon Her can easily stand on its own, readers who appreciate the development of characters over time would do well to start with the first book in the series, A Share in Death. --Sarah Borders, librarian at Houston Public Library

Discover: Three-time Macavity winner Crombie's latest in a bestselling series.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780061990618

Biography & Memoir

Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies

by Mikey Walsh

Mikey Walsh, the pseudonymous author of Gypsy Boy, was born fat, ugly and silent. Though he spends his childhood playing dress-up with his older sister, he can't escape his fate.

It's Mikey's bad luck to be born into a family that holds the bare-knuckle fighting crown. At the age of six, he's forced into the ring to fight an experienced adolescent more than twice his age. He's a sitting duck for every Gypsy boy who comes to challenge him. Every loss is followed by a far more brutal beating from Mikey's father--one of the scariest men to walk through a memoir in years, unleashing pitiless blows on his gentle son at every opportunity, then beating the narrator's beautiful mother.

From family violence to the horrors of cockfighting, from stealing bikes to squeezing juice out of slugs as a remedy for warts, Mikey makes the gaudy world of Romany Gypsies in the U.K. erupt into life, interspersing these scenes with moments of tenderness and goofy comedy. The richest aspect of Gypsy Boy is the vibrant characters who populate Mikey's family, arriving noisily in their battered vans: Auntie Maudie, who displays her artificial breasts in pink velour tracksuits; Auntie Minnie, a chain-smoking kleptomaniac; and Uncle Joseph, the only uncle to show the boy kindness, who then ends up raping him repeatedly throughout his childhood.

That this harrowing memoir manages to climax on a note of triumph--as Mikey, having realized that he's gay, breaks free from his family--says plenty about the resilient narrator, a human punching bag who is forced to sacrifice the Gypsy world he loves and the mother he adores to escape into a new life where he can be himself. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: The brutal life of a gay Gypsy boy forced to defend his family's bare-knuckle fighting title is a gritty, no-apologies account of a colorful, violent subculture.

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312622084

Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1959-1974

by William S. Burroughs

Rub Out the Words, published 18 years after the first volume of William S. Burrough's correspondence, picks up right where its predecessor left off--the very next day, in fact. It's 1959, a few months after the European publication of Naked Lunch, and though Burroughs is still in touch with Allen Ginsberg, he's also beginning to forge relationships, as editor Bill Morgan (who also edited the correspondence of Ginsberg, Kerouac and others) explains, with "a new coterie of creative people who were not related to the Beat Generation." Chief among these was Brion Gysin, a writer and artist who introduced Burroughs to the "cut-up" technique of breaking down written works into new sequences, which increasingly shaped his writing.

Morgan (The Typewriter Is Holy) maintains a minimal presence. Before the letters begin, he offers a timeline laying out key events in Burroughs's life during this 15-year period; after that, he limits himself to footnotes identifying people and art works and an occasional elaboration of context. Certain themes emerge: Burroughs was a vocal advocate of using apomorphine as a treatment for drug addiction. He also fought persistently against his reputation as a drug addict.

Rub Out the Words offers us intimate glimpses of Burroughs's personality. It isn't always pleasant, but when he expresses frustration over his son's drug addiction or marvels at the explosion of gay porn being freely shown in Times Square by the early 1970s, readers are reminded of the real life obscured by Burroughs's literary iconography. This collection offers insight into Burroughs's life and art not available anywhere else. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: A selection of letters representing one of the most fertile periods of Burroughs's career, including his ambivalent research into Scientology's personal development techniques to spur creativity.

Ecco, $35, hardcover, 9780061711428


The Dark Defile: Britain's Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842

by Diana Preston

In The Dark Defile, Diana Preston tells the story of Great Britain's ill-fated attempt to conquer Afghanistan in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, handling the inevitable parallels between the 19th-century British experience and modern events with a light touch and solid historical research.

Concerned about Russian expansion into Central Asia, the British government sent the Army of the Indus into Afghanistan in 1838 with orders to overthrow the existing ruler and replace him with a British puppet. The expedition ended with the slaughter of the British forces as they retreated from Kabul.

Reading The Dark Defile is like watching an impending train wreck in an old movie: you are at turns horrified and fascinated, all the while hoping for a last-minute save that never comes. Preston uses diaries, letters and official accounts by both major and minor figures to illustrate the series of personal, political and military errors of the First Afghan War. While politicians in London suppressed reports in which the British representative in Kabul argued against the political coup, an elderly general was given command of the expeditionary force because it was thought the climate of Kabul would be good for his health. Soldiers were housed in indefensible cantonments; subsidies to Afghani tribal leaders were cut. And when Afghan forces rebelled, British leaders hesitated to send out the troops. In the end, only one member of the expedition survived.

The Dark Defile is more than just an account of Britain's "Great Game" in Central Asia gone wrong. Preston ends with a critical assessment of Britain's "conspiracy of optimism" in Afghanistan, and its impact on future relationships between Afghanistan and the West. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A real-life geopolitical thriller about one of the most prominent failures in British military history.

Walker & Company, $28, hardcover, 9780802779823

Psychology & Self-Help

The 6 Husbands Every Wife Should Have

by Steven Craig

The 6 Husbands Every Wife Should Have is not an endorsement for polygamy or divorce, but a reminder that healthy marriages must adapt to the major life changes most people experience. Steven Craig draws upon his experience as a clinical psychologist, corporate coach and therapist as well as a husband to elaborate on how couples often grow apart by remaining static in the roles they inhabited when first married.

Craig makes the case for change--"Marriages don't fail when people change; they fail when people don't change"--then presents his five principles for strong relationships. Next, he analyzes the needs of each spouse during six common stages of life from dating and the early marriage years to, parenthood, empty nesting and retirement. He suggests how to avoid common stumbling blocks by recognizing when the relationship is working and by building intimacy when it's not; he illustrates some of his ideas by sharing transcripts of actual conversations between couples, then rewriting them for better results. Finally, he provides concrete strategies for creating an ideal marriage, along with quizzes, guides and worksheets.

Even the strongest relationships will benefit from Craig's practical strategies for balancing the demands of children and spouse as well as how to avoid allowing those family members with the fewest coping skills to dominate family dynamics. (He also adapts each stage of his plan to apply to childless marriages.) Craig believes marriage is less a marathon than a decathlon; The 6 Husbands Every Wife Should Have helps his readers navigate the common trials of life. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: A practical guide to maintaining a happy marriage throughout every stage of life.

Simon & Schuster, $24.99, hardcover, 9781439167984

Health & Medicine

The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards

by William J. Broad

The Science of Yoga exemplifies why William J. Broad has won so many major awards, including two Pulitzers, during his career as a science journalist. In "an impartial evaluation of an important social phenomenon that began five thousand years ago," he examines the discipline of yoga from every imaginable angle--health, science, spirituality, sexuality, medicine, business and trend--in loosely chronological order, touching upon all the key events and figures in its history, as well as its significant variations.

Broad has practiced yoga since 1970, and believes it "could become a force in addressing the global crisis in health care" because "[it] can turn our bodies into customized pharmaceutical plants that churn out tailored hormones and nerve impulses that heal, cure, raise moods, lower cholesterol, induce sleep, and do a million other things." He reports on the current scientific research into yoga's ability to treat depression, arthritis, insomnia, diabetes, fatigue, depressed libido and chronic pain.

In the meantime, however, yoga must address the inherent dangers in remaining an unregulated industry, which is why Broad hopes to establish a Yoga Education Society; this book is a step toward that goal. His writing is accessible and engaging, and he does not shy away from discussing the more controversial aspects of yoga along with the tremendous health benefits. (An advance excerpt in the New York Times Sunday Magazine focused on the physical dangers of overexerting oneself on the yoga mat, especially through poor guidance.) The Science of Yoga is a fascinating study of yoga's past popularity and future potential. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: A comprehensive study of the benefits and dangers of this popular but often misunderstood discipline.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781451641424

Children's & Young Adult

And Then It's Spring

by Julie Fogliano, illus. by Erin E. Stead

This extraordinary picture book--a debut for author Julie Fogliano, and the second for Caldecott-winning artist Erin E. Stead (A Sick Day for Amos McGee)--is a love letter to spring.

Fogliano's words fill the mouth with round sounds that children will want to say and hear over and over again. "First you have brown,/ all around you have brown," her poetic tale begins. The child's red farmhouse perched on a hill, red wool mittens, scarf and hat, and a small red bird dot the otherwise mocha-colored rolling hills with chocolate stripes. Stead's woodblock and pencil approach lends these large planes of color the density and texture of a rain-soaked patch of ground in early spring. After the rain, a group of loyal animal companions crowd around as the child searches for signs of life, and they all step back with the lack of evidence. A standout spread demonstrates "the brown,/ still brown" with its "greenish hum/ that you can only hear/ if you put your ear to the ground/ and close your eyes." The child and rabbit press their ears to the earth, while readers watch subterranean mice, ants and earthworms on the move.

Everything about the young hero suggests attentive care for and cultivation of his surroundings: an old tire gets a new life as a swing, and a refashioned milk carton serves as a birdfeeder. Fogliano and Stead perfectly capture that annual feeling of doubt and the payoff that comes with patience. Perfection. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A love letter to spring, in which a child cultivates the seeds he sows, and models patience and a passion for the earth.

Roaring Brook, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781596436244


by Helen V. Griffith, illus. by Laura Dronzek

After reading this luxurious bedtime book, just try to look at a full moon without seeing a pool of butter.

Rabbit, "blinking sleepy eyes," gives up on the moon and "hops into his burrow/ just a little soon" to see the moon come clear of the clouds. As accompaniment to Helen V. Griffith's (Georgia Music) exquisitely paced phrases, Laura Dronzek (White Is for Blueberry) applies acrylic paints like butter frosting across the pages. For "Moonlight slides like butter," we see the movement of the moon's luminous path like a jellyfish moving through the night sky. Stars and comets look like frosted cookies floating in the galaxy, while mountain ranges get a light dusting of golden cream. It "butters every tree/ sucks at twigs and branches/ like a butter bee." And best of all, the moonlight "seeps inside the burrow/ butters Rabbit's dreams," and when he emerges, "spatter[ed]... with moondrops," he sees the moon at last.

A final moonkissed scene combines humor and joy just subtle enough to let little ones drift off to sleep, knowing Rabbit got what he wanted. The rhymes dance off the tongue and the scenes look good enough to eat. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A bedtime rhyme that will lull children to sleep with visions of buttery moonlight wrapping the world in its safe embrace.

Greenwillow Books, $16.99, hardcover, 4-upp., ages 32, 9780062032850

Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am

by Harry Mazer, Peter Lerangis

In a moving story of unexpected consequences, Harry Mazer (A Boy at War) and Peter Lerangis (The Sword Thief) talk about the war wounds no one sees.

Ben Bright has everything going for him. He's smart, has a loving family, and can sing and dance. Ben plays Tony to his girlfriend Ariela Cruz's Maria, and fights his best friend, Niko Petropoulus, as Bernardo, onstage in their high school's production of West Side Story. But by the end of chapter one, tensions mount between Ben and his best friend because Niko's figured out that Ben's going to boot camp.

Ben is in Iraq less than a month when his company hits an IED and he winds up in a coma. When he wakes up two months later, he has no memory. The majority of the book focuses on how Niko; Ariela; Ben's autistic brother, Chris; and Ben's parents respond to Ben's traumatic brain injury. As Ariela says, "I miss him. The way he was, I mean. The way he used to be." She confronts the reality, Niko adopts an optimistic attitude, and Ben's parents struggle to be there for Ben and for Chris, at the risk of sacrificing their own relationship. At times, the point of view shifts to Ben's thoughts, highlighted in italics, as he tries to make sense of the world around him and piece together his missing past.

This sensitive novel deals realistically with the constellation of characters in Ben's life and often exposes the raw emotion touched off by uncertainty. Teens will likely see war veterans differently after reading this book--and may think twice before enlisting. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A moving story of a teen who goes to Iraq and returns as a man unrecognizable to himself and his loved ones.

Simon & Schuster, $15.99, hardcover, 160p., ages 12-up, 9781416938958

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